Desk Tidy Routing Project

A very stylish solution for all that loose paperwork!

Vertical storage always makes much more efficient use of available space and with my desk once again overflowing with excess but necessary clutter, the time had obviously come to try and get it sorted once and for all.

A look at the existing arrangement provided the necessary inspiration for the design of this tidy and I decided to replace the tottering tower of wobbly stationary trays with some closely spaced shelves for papers and also incorporate a small drawer to hide away all the other odds and ends.

Such a simple project could be modified for all sorts of other applications, like storing recipe sheets in the kitchen, magazines in the living room or even abrasive paper in the workshop, certainly a good example of less being more on the design front.

Step 1 - Selecting and Preparing

For my needs I wanted something that would look a quite stylish, so settled on using some recycled Brazilian mahogany for the whole construction.

In a former life this material and been a shelving unit in a shop and although peppered with screw holes, biscuit slots and bad scratches it was ideal for a project like this which only required relatively short lengths of thin stock. It was only a chance conversation that saved it from the fire.

However, the existing thickness of 1" meant that although I could resaw the very thin material for the shelves, the thicker material for the carcass required some rather wasteful planing down, but at least it was free and I was making good use of it.

If you need to cut thicker material down into thinner sections the bandsaw is the ideal tool, but use a sharp blade and allow it to cut at its own speed rather than forcing it.

With old and dry timber like this, there is rarely any serious distortion during the re-sawing process and you should end up with nice flat material.

It is just not safe to surface very thin material such as this, you will have to rely on the thicknesser to plane both sides, but it will press flat anyway under the feed rollers. Take only light cuts from each side, and leave it a couple of millimetres over the finished thickness at this stage.

The most effective method here to glue it all up into one big piece and then slice of the widths required, rather than trying to make up each piece individually. When the timber is this thin, I don´t bother with biscuits as any slight misalignment can be corrected when the shelves are finally thicknessed.

There is also then no danger of cutting through a joint and exposing the biscuits with any of the subsequent shaping cuts. Use the same procedure for the thicker material for the carcass, clamping it all thoroughly and then leaving to dry at least overnight.

Unfortunately, the original shelves were not quite wide enough for my finished project so I had to glue up a wider piece.

The completed wide boards can then be removed from the clamps and the worst of the hardened glue squeeze-out removed with a chisel to allow it to sit flat on the saw table.

Rip these down to the required widths, leaving them a little oversize and being careful to orientate the cuts so that there will be no joints near the edge of a piece.

Although the widths are cut slightly oversize to allow for planing, I cut the lengths to the exact size so that any spelching on the crosscut is removed with the subsequent thicknessing cuts, but once again only take light cuts until you reach the required thickness.

Step 2 - Carcass Construction

Slots are created and then fitted to build the main frame.

The main carcass is then biscuited together; a relatively straightforward procedure for the uprights, as the slots can be aligned using the fence on the biscuit jointer.

Things are little more complicated for the horizontal members as the uprights are set in slightly, but if you clamp the work in the vice against a piece of wide scrap material, you can still use the fence to provide the correct amount of offset and at the same time keep the slots vertical.

That´s all there is to the main carcass, no fancy joints needed on this one, but you do get a good looking result with minimum expertise.

The intermediate shelf also needs to be fitted in the same way using a couple of biscuits each side.

Step 3 - Routing and Slotting Application

The next stage is a little trickier in that you have to produce parallel and matched slots in the two sides to take the thin shelves.

I have always found the only way to get a perfect match in this situation is by clamping the two sides together and machining the slot in one go, using the router with a 6mm bit, guiding the base against a straight edge. Remember that the slot needs to be stopped at either end as the shelves are set back slightly from the front.

Once you have made the first slot, machine a small strip of wood to be a tight fit in it, which has the effect of locking the two halves together while you make the subsequent cuts.

If you have a lot of these evenly spaced slots to cut it is worth making up a repeat jig, but for just a few like this, some careful measuring each time you reset the clamp guide is a quicker option.

Now thickness down the shelf material until it is a smooth sliding fit in the groove. Resist the temptation to make it too tight or you´ll have trouble assembling it all later on and will end up damaging something if you have to start hammering it in place.

Obviously the ends of the slots are radiused, but the shelf edges are square, so to make them a neat fit the shelf edges have to be rounded over. For this I used a horizontal router table and a tall temporary sub fence to provide the necessary support.

Step 4 - Routing and Table Work

Additional routing will need to be done in this stage.

You could use a rounding over bit and make a pass along either side of the shelf, although I found a beading bit of exactly the right dimensions that allowed me to do it in a single pass.

The resulting fit was very neat and extremely pleasing, I must try this technique again sometime, rather than fiddling about cutting haunches so that the shelves overlap the rounded housings!

The back edges of the carcass now need to be rebated to take the back itself, which is just a piece of 4mm mahogany faced ply. The rebates are again cut on the horizontal router table using a straight bit, but don´t forget that the top and bottom rebates need to be stopped, or they will show in the finished cabinet.

Finally, the front edges of the carcass need to be radiused like the shelves; a simple job with a rounding over bit in the router table, provided you remember to make the end grain cuts first before you do the long ones, to minimize any breakout on the corners.

Once the unit is assembled it will be very difficult to do any polishing work on the shelves, so now is the time to finish those areas that will become inaccessible after assembly. I use brushing lacquer for projects like this as it dries very quickly and gives a lovely satin finish that highlights the grain but is not too glossy.

Step 5 - Assembly of Carcass

Glueing and calmping different parts of the desk tidy will be done.

This will also dry to a hard finish in about an hour so, even after several coats, so you can quickly move on to the assembly of the main carcass, gluing and clamping it firmly but checking for squareness as you tighten up.

I decided to assemble the basic carcass first and then fit the shelves afterwards, rather than trying to get it all together in one go, a sure-fire recipe for disaster!

Prepare the material for the drawer from some of the offcuts, machining in the groove to take the base, which is another piece of the mahogany faced ply.

The corner joints are half laps, yet another simple job to cut on the router table.

The drawer front has a small radiused cut-out to act as the finger pull. Shape this to a perfect curve using a drum sander in the drill press.

Step 6 - Finishing Touches and Presentation

Now the desk tidy is constructed, some final touches will be made.

The back just glues in place after you have squared out the corners of the stopped rebates in the horizontal members.

Once assembled you can lightly sand the unfinished areas and then brush on the lacquer as before.

Leave the outside of the drawer sides unfinished or they tend to bind when you close the drawer.

This really was a simple little project to make, with nothing difficult or challenging in the making process and only requiring some basic tools. Even working quite leisurely it whiled away a very pleasant day off from normal paid jobs, my reward in this case being a tidy desk at last. Now where's that stapler?

This is the completed Desk Tidy Routing Project.

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